Did you know that these famous Malaysians are making it big in Hollywood?
From Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh to Henry Golding and Ronny Chieng, a growing number of homegrown names are making waves in the global entertainment industry in their own unique ways — and putting Malaysia on the world map. These influential Asian stars are stealing the hearts of many with their excellent work and incredible, ever-increasing list of achievements. And we just can’t seem to get enough of them.
Read on for our list of successful Malaysians in Hollywood — be it actors, entertainers or musicians — who have joined the ranks of A-listers, and are continuing to make our nation proud.
Here are six Malaysians who are thriving in Hollywood:
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Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh
Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh is perhaps one of the biggest household names when it comes to Malaysians in Hollywood. Born in Ipoh, she rose to fame in the ‘90s for starring in groundbreaking Hong Kong action films. In 1997, she landed a role of a lifetime by being the first Asian female lead in the James Bond franchise, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, starring alongside Pierce Brosnan. Apart from acting, she is also known for her dynamic martial art skills. She displayed her impressive skills in the 2022 film ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings’. Other notable movies worth mentioning are ‘Yes, Madam’, ‘Supercop’, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘Star Trek: Discover’, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, and beyond.
In case you didn’t know, Michelle won the 1983 Miss Malaysia pageant at age 21. The beauty queen-turned-silver screen extraordinaire isn’t showing signs of slowing down as she is set to star in the sequel to the highest-grossing franchise, “Avatar”, in December 2022.
In August 2022, Michelle was recently awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by the American Film Institute. Congratulations, Dr Michelle Yeoh!
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The 35-year-old Malaysian won the hearts of many when he was cast as the charming and wealthy heir Nick Young in “Crazy Rich Asians“. After relocating to Kuala Lumpur from England at 21, the charismatic actor kickstarted his career by building his name as a presenter and travel host on BBC and Discover Channel. Before his breakthrough as Nick Young, he appeared on “Pisau Cukur” and “The Borneo Incident“. In 2018, he starred in a crime thriller film, “A Simple Favor“, alongside Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, which received remarkable praises for its unique story-telling and performance.
However, it wasn’t until the 2019 heartwarming rom-com “Last Christmas” featuring Emilia Clarke that caused every Henry fan to swoon over his charms once again. Apart from playing romantic leads, the British-Malaysian actor also stars in the G.I Joe spin-off “Snake Eyes”, and “The Gentlemen“. For more, catch him in Netflix’s “Persuasion”, co-starring Dakota Johnson.
According to IMDB, Henry is set to appear in two movies that are currently in post-production: “Assassin Club” and “Downtown Owl”. He also has roles in the upcoming films “Tiger’s Apprentice” and “The Old Guard 2”, which are now being filmed. We can’t wait to watch them.
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Yunalis Zara’ai, famously known as Yuna, has moved many music lovers with her whimsical, soulful R&B sound. Based in Los Angeles, the superstar was a law graduate before breaking into the international music scene. Her music garnered positive attention thanks to Myspace, which led her to be signed under the New York-based independent record label, Fader Label, in 2011. The label represents other artists such as Clairo, Matt and Kim, Lewis Del Mar, Shallou and more.
However, it wasn’t until the release of her breakout single “Crush”, featuring Usher, that won over the US music industry. The track was nominated in the 2017 BET Awards and received RIAA certified gold. Besides that, her 2012 single “Live Your Life” was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Pharrell Williams. Other notable tracks include “Used to Love You” featuring Jhene Aiko, “Castaway” featuring Tyler, the Creator and “Blank Marquee” featuring G-Eazy.
Here’s a fun fact. Yuna sang a cover of The Beatles‘ iconic “Here Comes The Sun” for the 2012 action flick “Savages“. That’s not all. She was asked to work on a theme song for Dreamworks Animation’s “The Croods” with Owl City titled “Shine Your Way”. In addition, the track was also nominated for Best Original Song at the 2017 Oscars.
With five studio albums under her belt, Yuna founded her own record label in Malaysia called YRR (Yuna Room Records) Music, where she manages Malaysian singer-songwriter AI.Z (Aizat Amdan). In March 2022, the star released her latest independent album, Y5, which is being released in five parts throughout the year.
Catch her “Y1: A Visual Experience” on YouTube.
You may or may not know this, but Australian actor Remy Hii is, in fact, Malaysian. Born in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the “Spider-Man: Far From Home” actor is of Chinese-Malaysian and English descent. He made his big break in 2013 by starring in a TV biopic miniseries based on Van Tuong Nguyen’s story of a Vietnamese-Australian man who was arrested in Singapore and sentenced to death for drug trafficking. Later in 2014, Remy starred in TV series “Marco Polo” as Prince Jingim before taking up the role of Alistair Cheng in Crazy Rich Asians.
If you’re a Spider-Man fan, you will probably recognise him as Brad Davis, Peter Parker’s classmate who pined for Michelle Jones’ affection. Although he didn’t win MJ’s heart, he did steal the heart of love interest Fiona Pembroke (played by Vanessa Hudgens) in “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star” as Peter Maxwell.
All you need is Ronny Chieng in your life for a good laugh. Hailing from Johor Bahru, the stand-up comedian started his career in Melbourne. Since then, he has performed and toured sold-out comedy shows in New Zealand, Malaysia, Canada, London, India and Singapore. That’s not all. The comedian has also recorded four one-hour stand-up comedy specials — The Ron Way (2012), Can You Do This? No You Can’t. (2013), Chieng Reaction (2014), You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About (2015) —, for which he won and was nominated for multiple awards. However, it wasn’t until he landed his most significant break yet by being a correspondent on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central.
Ronny may be known for his comedy specials, but he has also added acting to his list of achievements. Apart from comedy series and shorts, he starred alongside Henry Golding and Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh in “Crazy Rich Asians” and the MCU “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. If you missed it, tune in to “Ronny Chieng: Speakeasy” on Netflix as he explores various topics on race, cancel culture, the pandemic and his journey as a comedian.
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Last but not least, we’re concluding our list with another talented Malaysian who is making waves in the Hollywood movie scene. Raised in Australia, James Wan is no stranger to film buffs. Famed for his horrifying SAW franchise (yes, we’re talking about the horror icon Jigsaw), the Malaysian continues to dominate the horror genre with his best work in Hollywood — Annabelle, The Nun and The Conjuring — under his production company, Atomic Monster Productions. Other successful movies include Insidious, Malignant, Dead Silence and Lights Out.
Besides directing, he wears many hats. He’s also a screenwriter, producer and comic book writer. Outside of horror, he has also directed Furious 7 from the Fast & Furious franchise, the DC superhero flick “Aquaman” (2018), and the upcoming “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”.
It was also recently revealed from Deadline that a Disney+ “King Kong” live-action series is currently in the works under Atomic Monster Productions.
(Main and featured image: Getty Images/Arturo Holmes/FilmMagic)
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur